The first of us arrived in Sofia on Thursday afternoon. After orientating ourselves, we were met at Eagle Bridge by a guy from Sofia Green Tours – a group of volunteers who give guided tours of the city by bike – and were shown our place to sleep quite deep in the Borisova park. There was tons of space for lots of us to stay…so far there were just 5! That night some of us joined the weekly Thursday night bike ride. About a hundred people showed up, and with the lights glowing, they descended slowly, stuttering patiently across zebra crossings, bumbling along pebbled streets and winding through back roads. Only a few times did the group touch upon the main road, and even then it hardly had a swarm effect. It was a nice way to see the city by night, but those who went felt it needs a little more of an energetic mass to make Sofia traffic take notice of bikes!
On Friday, we set out to get a few bits and pieces sorted at a Bike shop, recommended to us by a friend – the daughter of the owner! When we were there, we asked him to point is in the direction of hardware stores and scrap yards. It was time to source things for our rocket stove and solar oven! So, we set off in groups to get hold of large metal containers and oven pipes; aluminium tape for the solar cooker and perlit and metal rings for making the rocket stove function. After finding the first pipe, we aimed to meet up again and find more useful scrap metal. At this point the rain started. Since Thessaloniki, Sofia has felt like spring (very cold) and this rain was nothing short of torrential! But by the early evening we had got our hands on a can and another L-shaped pipe. Being soaked to the bone was almost worth it.
That evening, we had organised to go to Adelante, a social space really near to Borisova park. We arrived late as it took a while to dry off and thaw through, but eventually we came together to meet, eat and share stories. Adelante has been open since 2008 and is completely self-organised. The rent is covered by money taken on the bar and this evening was no exception. The place was warm, colourful and well used. People talked about their experiences of activism in Bulgaria: the highlight of the anti-governmental demonstrations last year where people took to the streets and occupied a major crossroads for two months. How this was when Adelante really started to be known and the collective grow. They talked about the importance of being independent from any NGOs and political parties and so to be a safe space for people to become active against the current political situation. We also shared the ideas of the Biketour with them and, unsurprisingly, found some very common ground. A girl was very keen to join, but was worried that she would not be able to make it by bike, that it’d be too tough. Vera, who joined from Thessaloniki, reassured her that it was possible – she herself had not cycled for ten years (and never in a city) before coming to Sofia!
At the beginning of the next day the number of Ecotopians doubled in size! This made lighter work for making the two rocket stoves and the solar cooker. We used a space called Xaspel (meaning pulley!) which is also called The Fridge i.e. it’s pretty cool in there! The centre is used as a space for political and intellectual discussion about topics such as migration – I was actually at a conference about migration there two months ago – and a meeting point for people in the collective. The solar cooker was given (and kindly hand-delivered) to us by a co-operative who makes solar cookers in Athens called Cook ‘n’ Go. All we had to do was put aluminium tape on to the wood panels and put it together with cable ties and hinges. In the evening we christened the one completed rocket stove – fiery! – and sat among the mosquitoes in the park foliage.
The first opportunity to sit for a good while in a meeting circle was taken the following morning. It was a good chance for people to get to know each other and start thinking about being part of the Biketour and how it will actually work, in reality. Once everyone had volunteered to do tasks in the days ahead, everyone spent some time playing with attaching trailers to their bikes to get acquainted with the different fastenings, of which there are three (one per trailer) … hopefully this should mean no avoidable injuries! Back to Xaspel in the afternoon to chill out, do some final bicycle tweaks and another cooked meal in the back yard, before watching a yet-to-be-publicly- shown film made by a friend of people at both of the social centres called ‘Bulgaria: the eternal heresy’. Claimed by some to be the best film about Bulgaria ever made….! Tomorrow we’ll be on the road together for the first time…..heading into the mountains to Zhelen (otherwise spelt Jelen)….more about that soon…..